Sanity Snippet #4

Every good novel has at least one protagonist, and every protagonist has a goal. Use H.R. D’Costa’s (Aka HRD) SMART technique to make sure your protagonist’s story objective is powerful enough to go the distance and keep your audience reading.

SMART is an acronym. Here’s how HRD desribes each component:

S – Specific (it’s concrete, not amorphous or abstract)

M – Measureable (it has a clear indicator of success or failure)

A – Actionable (even a brief description immediately conjures a few of the action steps needed to accomplish it)

R – Realistic (it’s credible for your hero to achieve it)

T – Time-bound (it must be accomplished by a certain deadline)

Keep in mind that other story characters also have goals. Use SMART to discover what your antagonist is trying to accomplish. Sometimes, you can start here and work backwards to discover your protagonist’s goal.

Here’s how I describe Lee Harding’s SMART goal in my current work in progress: S (he wants Ray Archer brought to justice for the kidnapping and murder of Kyle Bennett, Lee’s childhood friend who disappeared half-a-century ago); M (either Ray will be arrested or he won’t); A (there are multiple things Lee can do to investigate Kyle’s disappearance and Ray’s involvement); R (Lee is an attorney, thus he, along with allies such as a private investigator and the District Attorney, can marshall the skills and resources needed); and T (Lee arrives in Boaz in late November and has until February (the beginning of Spring semester at Yale Law School) to accomplish his goal).

It’s time to write. Use HRD’s SMART technique to discover your protagonist’s goal. Fifteen minutes invested in focused free-writing might stimulate your creative juicies. Start your session by asking yourself, “what question is my protagonist trying to answer?” Or, “what problem is he trying to solve?” After your time is over, write your protagonist’s SMART goal.

Photo by Olya Kobruseva on

The Midpoint

We’ve seen that the First Plot Point comes at the end of Act I, the 25% mark of our story. During the first half of Act II (recall, Act II comprises 50% of our novel) our protagonist and his allies react to the First Plot Point. H.R. D’Costa refers to the key scenes of Act IIA as try-fail cycles. This brings us to the Midpoint, AKA the Second Plot Point (the Third Plot Point comes at the end of Act IIB).

What should happen at the Midpoint? In sum, it’s a scene where everything changes once again. This is the end of our protagonist’s reacting. It’s the time his mindset transforms into a take-charge attitude. It’s the time his behavior pivots from reaction to action. Think of it as our second Inciting Incident.

Just as the first Inciting Incident causes the First Plot Point, the Midpoint follows the same logical, A causes B, pattern. It is a natural consequence of what has come before. Further, the Midpoint continues this causal chain by starting a chain of events that lead our protagonist to the story’s climax. But, the Midpoint is uniquely different from the many try-fail cycles of Act IIA.

It is important to keep in mind the one thing that doesn’t change throughout our novel until the very end: our protagonist is pursuing his goal. Whether you are writing Act IIA or Act IIB, our main character is on one key mission, whether he is in the reactive or active mode. However, the Midpoint is a dramatic and clarifying moment, one that will move our main character closer or farther away from accomplishing his goal. Either way, the event intensifies the protagonist’s commitment and determination.

D’Costa refers to the Midpoint event as the fulcrum. The Dictionary defines this word as “the pivot about which a lever turns.” The fulcrum event involves the protagonist or an ally (or both). It could be an attempted murder, a kidnapping, a near-fatal boating accident. The antagonist (or antagonistic force) has at least a minimum connection to the Midpoint event.

In my current work in progress, there is an explosion and fire that, on first consideration, appears accidental. It turns out, it’s not.

As a new writer, you quickly learn that Act II is the hardest part of creating a novel. Why? It consumes 200 pages of your 400-page book. It is where many a writer ‘hits the wall,’ and frequently tosses his manuscript into the trash. It’s the perfect place for your readers to get bored and grab another novel from their TBR (to be read) stack.

Having a dramatic and unique Midpoint is a key antidote for writer and reader.

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Sanity Snippet #2

I’ve been giving some thought to my Sanity Snippet project. I’ve gained some clarity and believe an alternative approach will provide more value to my beginning novelist readers.

As earlier described, the goal of Sanity Snippets was to provide encouragement and an opportunity for writing practice. That hasn’t changed. What has changed is that the practice will be more logically fluent and provide a pathway to writing your first novel. Please allow me to illustrate with an analogy.

Think of the game of football. I recall football practices from my high school days. I still cannot believe that was over half-a-century ago. There definitely was a logic to what Coach Hicks had us players do: warmup exercises, breaking into groups by player type to work on skills and techniques (quarterbacks, footwork & throwing, and receivers running routes and catching), dividing into teams and scrimmaging, and finally, running wind-sprints to close out the practice session (fun, fun). These long and grueling hours were not merely for the sake of having something to do. They were for one purpose, that of preparing our minds and bodies to defeat our next opponent. Think of the ‘game’ of novel writing. It too requires many long and grueling hours of practice.

This analogy has altered my plans for Sanity Snippets. I think we must have a focused plan and not write something that may have nothing to do with our first or next novel. We need to better use the time we spend on the writing practice field.

In sum, our daily writing practice will be fruitful if we write a few words or sentences (more is even better). The extra benefit is that our efforts will move us positively toward our long-term goal: our self-published book.

Sound good? Great. Let’s get started.

All novels start with an idea, but not just any idea. It has to be one that will carry the weight of our story for 3 to 400 hundred pages. I can easily testify that not all ideas can perform at that level. I have many a manuscript that met its death somewhere early in Act II.

You may already have an idea. You may have already written a few notes. Maybe they concern an interesting circumstance, a character’s unique personality, a symbol or image, a few lines of explosive dialogue, or a complete scene or two. Many writers refer to these disparate thoughts as story seeds.

It’s critical to evaluate and develop your ideas before wasting countless hours and words just to find yourself lost in a dark cave with no hope of finding your way home. H.R. D’Costa refers to this evaluation and development process as “popping the story kernel.”

In her invaluable writing guide, Sizzling Story Outlines: How to Outline Your Screenplay or Novel, D’Costa teaches that once we isolate our story kernel (the story seed that appears to incorporate all or most of the others; usually involves a situation, a character, or a theme), there are six key components (protagonist, goal, antagonist, stakes, genre, and hook) we must address before we can determine if our story kernel can go the distance.

Now, to today’s Sanity Snippet. Start thinking and writing about your main character. This is your story’s protagonist. Here’s a few questions to answer: 1) male or female?; 2) age?; 3) name?; 4) physical characteristics?; and 5) what’s his or her backstory?

Here’s a backstory overview for my protagonist: Billy has grown up in New York City. He just completed the 8th grade at The Math & Science Exploratory School in Brooklyn. His widowed mother just died of pancreatic cancer.

The above five questions are all important. Don’t just think about your answers, write them down.

Remember, this is going to take a while. We are going to eat this elephant one bite at a time.

Never forget, you are a writer if you write.

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Sanity Snippet #1

Your protagonist has an external problem. It’s one he’s had for a while, or it’s something that just hit him out of nowhere. I apologize to all females. I use the male gender to avoid the burdensome ‘he’s had/she’s had.’

Give your protagonist a name and describe his problem.

Do not make this difficult. At most, this should take only a few minutes.

Grab your pencil and write. Just a sentence or two will do. Don’t fret about grammar and punctuation.

It could be as simple as: Fourteen-year-old Billy is losing his mother. He doesn’t know his father. Billy dreads moving in with his Aunt Melanie.

Or, here’s another approach: Billy’s problem is his Aunt Melanie.

Your protagonist name can be anything. His problem can be anything. Of course, if you already have a story idea, use it for this practice assignment.

You are in control.

Use this photo if you need to.

Photo by Jill Burrow on

Start keeping a log of how many words you write per day (date/number of words). You can use a small notepad or a note-taking APP on your phone.

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